Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thirsty Scholars Pour Into North Allston; Systems Biology Finals Club To Follow

Harvard University hasn't been working with, or even up front with, residents of North Allston and North Brighton according to an article in The Harvard Crimson last week. (The article's additional claim that Boston College behaves neighborly by comparison is the subject of much dispute.) Harvard's Director of Community Relations, Kevin McCluskey, was quoted in the original Crimson story but was unsatisfied with Harvard's depiction in it -- so he and Kathy Spiegelmann wrote a follow-up letter-to-the-editor, published in Monday's edition, titled, "Harvard Hopes to Maintain Open Dialogue with Allston."

Members of Harvard's Faculty must have been quite confused that same Monday to hear Chris Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of Harvard's Allston Development Group, tell them during the faculty meeting that they had hidden a room on the roof of the Allston Science Complex -- named a "function room" on all the drawings and documents -- that is actually intended to be a bar for the scientists to socialize and drink.

There is no indication that Gordon or any other members of the ADG ever mentioned this intended use for a room in the Science Complex during the zoning approval process under Article 80 of Boston's zoning code. It's not a stretch to say that somebody's done found lion at the site.

It is outrageous that McCluskey publishes a letter-to-the-editor claiming to work with the neighborhood on the same day that Gordon tells the faculty how Harvard hasn't been up-front with the neighborhood.

A bar for 80-hour-a-week, nose-to-the-bench molecular biologists and biochemists? Well, some might say that they they know what they're doing. A friend once told me that, if she ever decided to drop acid, she would trust Caltech or MIT chemists to synthesize it, because she was sure that they would run a nuclear magnetic resonance test to verify its purity. But would she trust a Harvard chemist? Maybe, maybe not.

University chemists and biologists are popular at after-hours events, since it's relatively easy to sneak 96% ethanol out of the stockroom or the lab shelves. Most scientists know to avoid using ethanol more pure than 96%, however, because carcinogenic benzyne is added to it as a material separation agent... so the Allston Science Complex Systems Biology Finals Club bartender ought to be careful when purchasing product for their shelves.

Would proteasome researchers think highly of a Science Complex bar, or would they consider it degrading?

Via Harry Mattison.

Image of Somerville's Thirsty Scholar Pub by davidz, LSD image by Quasimondo, and ethanol by willie lee (not jack brown), provided through a Creative Commons license.


Ryan said...

I guess I don't quite see the outrage here. If this is literally going to be a bar open 4-10pm each night with a fulltime bartender, ok, that would be a bit of subterfuge. More likely, however, it really is a function room, and most functions I've ever been to in higher ed serve alcohol, and in a busy building there will probably be 2-3 of these a week. Certainly the existing function rooms at Harvard, BU, BC, and Tufts all work that way...

Michael Pahre said...

Ryan, I think you missed the point here. If this were simply to be a function room in which one of the labs throws a happy hour (on their own dime) once or twice a week, then no one would notice or care.

But Harvard's Gordon himself called this a bar: “The scientists were quite adamant about wanting to have a rooftop bar.” When a Harvard official used the very specific term "bar" it becomes an issue that needs to be sorted out.

Ryan said...

Michael, I know he said "bar" but, he was chatting idiomatically with the faculty, not filing a permit with Liquor Control. When a friend says he's putting a bar in his den, I don't think he's really opening a speakeasy, but rather creating a room with a certain kind of setup that will indeed serve alcohol.

Your interpretation is certainly not impossible, of course, but I guess I think that if we treat Harvard with a hermeneutic of suspicion over every possible mis-step, that removes our leverage to be outraged at the really important community issues like the vacancies problem.